Dear News Media: PLEASE Learn About Adoption Before Making Assumptions

Many articles describing Simone Biles' life and family do a disservice to the entire adoption triad.

Robyn Cisar August 10, 2016
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Headline after headline, the Olympics continue to prove that the United States is far from educated about the issues of adoption and foster care.

Simone Biles, arguably the most outstanding American athlete at Rio, has had her story covered thoroughly by news outlets of all mediums—from radio and television to bloggers and Snapchat stories. What just floors me, though, is the excessive attention paid to her family background—and the inability of media outlets to report the story respectfully.

We all know Simone’s story by now: She and her sister were adopted by their grandparents at a young age after her birth mother demonstrated over time that she was not capable of raising them herself.

Sadly, headline after headline reads “Unwanted Child … ” or “Fatherless Child with Mother Addicted to drugs … ” or “Abandoned … ”

To the media outlets writing this story: Know this—No child is unwanted. No matter how moving her story of adoption may be, it is not your place to label her “unwanted.” On the contrary, she is very loved and wanted—not only by her adoptive parents, but also by her Heavenly Father.

What makes it even worse, the headlines often read that she was abandoned. ABANDONED? No, I don’t think she was abandoned. She wasn’t left on a doorstep in the middle of the night. The state intervened on her behalf to pull her from a dangerous situation. I think her birth mother did want to love and care for her, but she couldn’t get through the darkness of addiction. Why has the media decided it is their responsibility to define a girl’s familial relationships and determine if someone is actually wanted?

The disrespectful headlines that attempt to depict her rise from foster care to stardom are overshadowed by language offensive to all sides of the adoption community.

This is where I introduce Positive Adoption Language. It is imperative that media outlets educate their anchors, reporters, and writers on these rules of thumb. And before I get comments stating, “What’s wrong with this country is political correctness“—let me stop you here and clarify that this is NOT political correctness, this is a vocabulary lesson with a sprinkling of good ethics.

Al Trautwig—the Emmy-winning NBC Sports Commentator now known for his ignorant tweet saying Simone’s parents “may be mom and dad, but they are NOT her parents”—has caused a storm of controversy as a result of his unfiltered and uneducated follow-up comments.

It’s one thing for an announcer to make a mistake on air—it happens all the time and the public desperately needs some lessons on extending grace where it is due—but the storm wasn’t caused by his mistake of calling her parents her grandparents. It was caused when he stubbornly replied to an tweet someone sent him, correcting his misperceptions about Simone’s family. His response? “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.”

Al has done NBC a disservice by slashing their integrity: What does it say about a news outlet when a commentator can’t pause for a moment to consider someone may be pointing out a mistake where constructive criticism is necessary and due? Likewise, NBC did him a disservice by allowing him to prepare Olympic coverage without even making sure he’s doing so accurately. Al, did you even know about the terms “birth mother” or “adoptive parents” before delivering Simone’s family background story? Did you really spend so many weeks and months learning about Simone and didn’t even grasp the importance of using proper terminology to deliver her story?

In addition to wrongly defining Simone Biles herself, the media has also reduced the woman who gave her life to “a drug addict.” Her birth mother might have made some big mistakes, but it’s sad to me that the media is perpetuating her difficult season of life by defaming a woman who a) has enough to worry about b) probably doesn’t want her personal baggage aired out and c) doesn’t have a chance to stand up for herself. She may have an addiction, and she may still struggle with that addiction, but it is not the responsibility of media personalities (or the public) to determine whether or not she wanted her baby, whether or not she “abandoned” her baby or whether or not addiction is a good enough “excuse” (as some outlets put it) to place her child for adoption.

It’s sad to me—because Simone’s overwhelming success (let’s be honest – SLAY) at the Olympics is being overshadowed by failing writers and announcers alike who won’t take the time to learn more about all three sides of adoption and foster care in order to report the content accurately and respectfully.

Fellow writers and reporters: Do your job right by taking a hop off your saddled high horse and applying some humility when a reader (and probably a fan of yours) takes the time to point out an honest mistake.

I am a radio news anchor and I’m an adoptee. I’ve always been sensitive to family matters because of the way I’ve been affected by them, but more so because family is the core of our country. How is it that such a fundamental topic like family and adoption (which has been around since the story of Moses) can be butchered and misreported over and over again? I haven’t even touched on how offensive some of these headlines and commentators are to me personally, but thankfully, I’m not the subject surrounded by their poorly chosen adjectives. I can relate to both the subject of the story and the individuals delivering the message, which is why I’m writing to you now.

Fellow writers and reporters: Do your job right by taking the time necessary on each and every piece you write. Honor the subject of your piece by getting to know them better—ask HER what she calls her birth mother, ask HER who her parents are—and deliver the facts she gives you. Nobody tells their life story better than the person who has lived it. Do your job right by taking a hop off your saddled high horse and applying some humility when a reader (and probably a fan of yours) takes the time to point out an honest mistake. Your readers and viewers point out errors because you are held to a high standard of reporting the truth to hundreds, thousands, even MILLIONS of viewers ethically and efficiently.

To media outlets everywhere: Now is your chance to get ahead of this downward trend by challenging your writers, reporters, producers and editors to learn something new about the adoption triad. Don’t know what an adoption triad is? Start there.

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Robyn Cisar

Robyn Cisar is an adoptee from the Natural State with a passion for waiting children and writing. Since reuniting with her biological family, she has felt called to help bring an end to the orphan crisis by sharing her story and raising awareness. She enjoys speaking at foster and adoption events, meditative doodling, and hammocking anywhere the sun is shining. Read more from her on her blog. Or follow her on Instagram: @robyncisar


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